A reflection on the last day of residency

I entered residency self-assured, if not in my scholarly achievements, at least in who I am as a person.

I left slightly broken.

Something happens to you in residency, and you don’t realize the transformation as it occurs. It may be the loss of a patient who died on your watch, or the realization that you have not changed the world. It could be the constant fear of failure or punishment by those who have your future in their hands. As I look back on the past three years of pediatric residency, four years of medical school, one year of post-baccalaureate, and four years of undergrad, it is hard to imagine I have made it to the other side of it all.

The feeling is overwhelming, and the tears flow at the realization it is finally over. There is a type of unspoken trauma that occurs when a young person transitions into life as a resident. The endless shifts, the fear of making a mistake, or worse, failing, and the realization that people will die despite your best attempts. These are the traumas that we do not discuss as young physicians.

We push forward, one day at a time, working through each shift despite what may have transpired that day. Rarely do we take time to reflect on the life lost … or saved. We mourn in corners or in showers or not at all. We push the feelings aside, as if we can.

But today, after the most grueling three years of my life are finally over, I am overwhelmed with emotion. The piercing wail of the broken mother falling to her knees after her 19-month-old daughter was pronounced dead, the charred, lifeless body of a pre-pubescent boy who would go unclaimed after he and his family all perished in a devastating apartment fire, the sobs coming from the bathroom after I had to break the news to a mother that her 9-month-old baby boy has leukemia.

It is an honor to have had such profound encounters, and I cannot thank these families enough for the lessons they have taught me. Here’s to hoping that although I may be broken, I am still better than when I started.

Lucy Uber is a pediatrician.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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